Baptists and the American Civil War: August 6, 1864

Sherman in the trenches near Atlanta.

Sherman in the trenches near Atlanta.

In and around the battlefronts of Atlanta and Petersburg (and nearby Richmond), anticipation and apprehension is in the air. News of the Union victory in Mobile Bay is filtering out. With the shuttering of the port of Mobile, the Federals have further tightened their encirclement around the South.

The strangling of the Confederacy involves that which is most crucial for the South’s survival: industry, trade, economy, land, food, black slaves, and white men of fighting age.

The industrial output of the South, already of a small scale compared to the North, is now limited to production of weapons and munitions. Atlanta, a military industrial hub, seems certain to fall to the Union within days or weeks.

The effective capture of Mobile (even though the Union opts not to occupy the city) shuts down most of what little trade Confederate blockade runners had managed to carry out.

Stunted industrial output and trade, resulting in long-running, soaring inflation, has left the Southern economy in shambles.

With much of the South’s land now under Union control, and most able-bodied white men in the army, agricultural production of food crops is scarce at a very time when winter is not that far away. Hunger in the army and on the home front, a significant problem the prior winter, promises to be even more so this coming winter. Making matters worse, Union forces are clashing with Confederate forces in the fertile Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, an area where much-needed food supplies are growing.

Worse yet, slaves are escaping behind Union lines by the thousands every month, further hampering field work.

But perhaps the most gut-wrenching insult of all is the growing masses of Confederate army deserters. Men by the growing thousands, despairing of an unjust war in which the poor are fighting to preserve the slave riches of the wealthy, and desperate to assist their hungry families on the home front, are putting down their arms and returning to their homes.

A notice in today’s Richmond Times Dispatch of the arrest of a deserter offers a glimpse of the crisis of the problem:

A man named O. H. Hobson, member of company K, 9th Virginia infantry, was committed to Castle Thunder yesterday on the charge of desertion from the Confederate service. This is the sixth time Hobson has been guilty of desertion. On two other occasions, when his conduct had been seriously decided on by court-martials, he escaped punishment by the clemency offered in the President‘s proclamations.

Hobson is fortunate in that he has not yet been hanged for his crimes. Perhaps next time he shall not be so lucky.

Also this day, the Vermont Journal publishes a short notice of the death of a Baptist layman, Nelson O. Cook, who was wounded in the Battle of Cold Harbor and subsequently died of his injuries.

In Hospital, June 7th, of wounds received by a sharpshooter on the battlefield of Coal Harbor, Nelson O. Cook, of Weston, of Co. H, 10th Reg’t Vt. Vols., aged 40 years.

The deceased was a brave soldier and a kind husband and father. He has left a widow and two children to mourn his loss. His funeral services were attended in the Baptist meeting house in Weston. Sermon by the pastor, Rev. T. B. Eastman. Text, Job 7:10, “He shall return no more to his house, neither shall his place know him any more.

Cook is but one of many tens of thousands who have died fighting the Rebellion.

So many deaths, and yet the war drags onward and onward, ever so slowly. Although in a stranglehold, the Confederacy’s elites, including Southern Baptist leaders, seem determined to fight to the last man (not counting their own lives, in most instances) in order to preserve their privileges, riches and “rights”–that is, the God-ordained institutions of white supremacy and black slavery that, prior to the war, had created vast wealth largely controlled by a relative handful of slaveholders.

Sources: Sean H. Vanatta and Dan Du, “Civil War Industry and Manufacturing,” New Georgia Encyclopedia (link); “Arrest of a Deserter,” Richmond Daily Dispatch, August 6, 1864 (link); “Nelson O. Cook,” Vermont Journal, August 6, 1864, from Database (link); Roger L. Ransom, University of California, “The Economics of the Civil War” (link); Robert E. Gallman, University of North Carolina, “Trends in the Size Distribution of Wealth in the Nineteenth Century: Some Speculations” (link)